Final Interior rule on public info avoids disaster but concerns remain

Fog rests in the valleys of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  (© Bill Lea)

The Department of the Interior (DOI) released a final rule today that impacts the agency’s process for releasing public records in ongoing efforts to limit disclosure of damaging information to the agency.

SELC submitted comments in opposition to the proposed rule on behalf of nearly 150 national and regional conservation groups in January 2019 outlining concerns about the proposed rule. In a major victory for these groups, DOI has abandoned many of the transparency-depleting provisions from the final rule.

“We are proud of the work the coalition of concerned groups did to push back against Interior's initial proposal to block the public from agency decision-making,” said Kym Hunter, Senior Attorney Focusing on FOIA Issues. “We remain concerned the final rule still allows for political interference to slow down access to important government documents rather than providing transparency.”

Under the new rule, the agency’s solicitor – a political appointee — would still be granted authority to deny or slowdown Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by shielding certain documents through a pre-approval process and holding the authority to stop expedited requests.

“Transparency at the Department of Interior is absolutely essential to protect our public lands and wildlife,” said Sam Evans, Leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program. “The changes to the final rule are a testament to the public's power when we collectively stand up for our lands.”

This rule change was the latest attempt by DOI to withhold documents that should be available to the public under federal law, including documents that exposed, among other things, the rampant corruption in the administration of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. This new rule was proposed on Zinke’s last day in office, which fell during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s and in the midst of a government shutdown.

Over the past two years, DOI has adopted policy changes and practices that have severely slowed the disclosure of public records. The federal Freedom of Information Act requires that public records be provided “promptly” upon request, but the agency has instead created unnecessary delays, bottlenecks, and rules in order to ignore requests.

Currently, SELC has multiple pending lawsuits challenging other policies and practices implement by DOI to withhold information from the public.

More News

2019 trends making and braking rooftop solar in the South

Solar is booming across the South as more homeowners turn to clean, affordable rooftop solar to meet their energy needs, and as state policy make...

Hikes that have our hearts at Shenandoah Mountain

Rugged trails, sparkling lakes, forest covered mountains, crystal trout streams, rocky cliffs. This is what makes Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountain...

SELC goes Above & Beyond to protect our health and environment

This has been an impressive year of results, even by the Southern Environ­mental Law Center’s historically high standards. Our solar initiative i...

Google permit to triple its freshwater use upsets S.C. neighbors

A request from internet giant Google to siphon up to 1.5 million gallons of water per day from a Berkeley County aquifer that provides drinking w...

Virginia’s already-approved program to cut carbon emissions needs budget restriction lifted

When it comes to addressing climate change caused by carbon emissions in Virginia, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that...

Cut Virginia Carbon

Virginians, we have the power to ensure clean air, protect health, and build a healthy economy in our state.  By signing the petition below, you...

More Stories